Politicians playing new game of leapfrog

K. Kabilan

Four Bersatu MPs have declared their support for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his government in the hope of getting allocations for their constituencies. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 11, 2023.

Commentary by K. Kabilan

THERE’S a new political game in town, being played at the highest level of power.

Just like the timeless snakes and ladders board game, a roll of dice in this new game is set to determine the fate of the players (members of parliament), their party (so far only one political party is involved) and ultimately, the prime minister and his government.

The final outcome of this game is to ensure there is a strong support for the prime minister, allowing him to have a solid two-thirds majority in parliament.

Yes, this is not new, but the rules of this game and the tactics used are definitely new, one that is meant to escape the anti-party hopping law that took effect on October 5 last year.

The law was meant to stop “political frogs” from defecting and to respect the mandate of voters.

However, there are loopholes in this law. This has allowed four Bersatu MPs to throw their support behind Anwar Ibrahim and his government.

Yet, another MP has indicated that he too will follow suit if he is guaranteed allocations for his constituency. And at the rate this new game is being played, there could still be more Bersatu MPs declaring their support for Anwar.

Here is a snapshot of this game and what it means.

The ‘defecting’ lawmakers

Bersatu lawmakers Zahari Kechik (Jeli), Iskandar Dzulkarnain Abdul Khalid (Kuala Kangsar), Suhaili Abdul Rahman (Labuan) and Mohd Azizi Abu Naim (Gua Musang) have openly announced their support for Anwar and the unity government.

In fact, Dewan Rakyat Speaker Johari Abdul has said these four had requested to sit on the government bench in the august House.

However, they have also expressed their loyalty to Bersatu and said they would not leave the party.

This is obviously to escape the bite of the anti-party hopping law as they would lose their seats if they quit the party.

So they have done the next best thing – remain in the party but reject the party’s line by supporting the prime minister and his government.

Their main reason for “jumping ship” is their undying loyalty to their constituents, as there is an urgent need for development allocations.

With the federal government refusing to give any funds to the opposition, these four said they have decided to support Anwar and his government in order to get that much needed allocations.

On Thursday, another Bersatu MP could not have made it clearer.

Bukit Gantang MP Syed Abu Hussin Hafiz Syed Abdul Fasal told the Dewan Rakyat that he too would support the government if money was allocated for his constituency and for some of the programmes he had introduced. He even gave a breakdown of the amount he needed.

If development allocation is the lure here, more opposition lawmakers would be tempted to make the leap. Right now, government MPs get almost RM4 million, but opposition MPs get zero.

Muhyiddin Yassin will lose his credibility and standing in Perikatan Nasional if more Bersatu lawmakers defect. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 11, 2023.

The affected party

Bersatu is definitely caught in a bind. If it sacks these rebels, they will not lose their seats, and will be free to join another party. This will only make it easy for these party rogues.

So Bersatu decided to suspend Iskandar for four years and Suhaili for six years. The decision on the remaining two is expected to be made soon.

Just as it was coping with these four, the Bukit Gantang MP became the latest to join the rebels’ list. And the list could only increase.

Bersatu has said people close to Anwar are enticing these MPs by offering them projects and development funds. This has been denied by the prime minister.

But what is true is that at least two of these rebel MPs have already received constituency allocations just days after declaring their support for Anwar.

Bersatu won 31 seats in the last general election. It has now lost four, and most probably more in the coming days.

Its leaders are also facing criminal cases, including its president Muhyiddin Yassin, putting them at risk of being convicted and losing the MP status.

In the short term, the loss of lawmakers will also reflect badly on the party’s standing in Perikatan Nasional (PN).

Bersatu has been given the driving seat in PN, although PAS has more seats (43), with Muhyiddin being the PN chairman.

If more Bersatu lawmakers defect, Muhyiddin will lose his credibility and standing in PN, and may be forced to give up the leadership role in PN.

The ultimate winner

There is only one winner in this game – Anwar Ibrahim. The defection of more opposition lawmakers only means his numbers in the Dewan Rakyat will grow.

After last year’s general election, Anwar managed to stitch up support from former rival Umno and parties from Sabah and Sarawak to get his two-thirds majority in the House – the first time since Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in the 2008 polls.

But when Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman decided to withdraw his support for the government bloc in parliament on September 10, Anwar lost his two-thirds majority, leaving his government with only 147 MPs.

Syed Saddiq moved to the opposition bench after expressing dissatisfaction with the abrupt halt of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s corruption trial.

He also said allocation for his constituency was withdrawn soon after he moved benches.

With the addition of four Bersatu MPs to the government bench, Anwar has once again obtained the mighty two-thirds majority. As it stands, he has 151 MPs and counting.

Why does this matter? For one, it shows that the prime minister is in an unshakable position. He could not be toppled by anyone playing the numbers game.

But more importantly, he has the numbers now to amend the Federal Constitution to implement whatever changes – political and institutional – he wishes to.

This could include the amendments to the citizenship law (already in the Dewan Rakyat) and possibly the increase of federal constituencies that could benefit the ruling pact. – November 11, 2023.

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